It’s not often that a band’s career pivots on the release of a Christmas song, but that’s what happened for Atlanta, Ga.-based All The Locals with the release of their single “Something to Hold (This Christmas)” roundabout December of 2015.
ATL vocalist and keyboardist John Schmarkey tells that the then-three-year-old outfit had been struggling under the burden of career uncertainties and intra-band turmoil when the members took a step back and reassessed their direction. Parting ways with one original member, the rest of ATL went into the studio, their creative energies having been reinvigorated, and released the aforementioned single to a round of critical acclaim, including a statewide music award.
Ably mixing IMAX Rawk with neo-soul, hints of funk and plenty of pop savvy, “Something to Hold (This Christmas)” set the band on a new course both musically and otherwise, a course that has carried through to their 2017 “Something She Poured” CD.
“That’s the point where I feel like we rekindled things, and really started climbing the ladder,” Schmarkey says. “We started writing a lot; we landed a distribution deal with Sony; we started touring and playing a lot of music festivals. We turned into not just a good team, but a good family.”
The latter is a key, Schmarkey says; some of ATL’s members can trace their friendships back to childhood. They’re a close-knit bunch, but also a diversely-inclined one. “Some of us came up playing Gospel in church,” Schmarkey says. “Some of us were inspired by rock, some of us were into funk. Our guitar player Mike (Fiorello) has a heavy Latin influence.”
That’s all true enough, inasmuch as there’s a lot going on in all of ATL’s releases. To be sure, a sturdy underpinning of neo-soul runs through the music, owing in no small part to Schmarkey’s distinctive vocal, a warm, lived-in rasp that recalls other white-soul crooners like Jay Kay of Jamiroquai and Marc Cohn of “Walking in Memphis” fame. But that strong soul core is leavened by bits of funk and snippets of blues, and adrenalized by a puissant helping of post-millennial arena rock in the mode of Coldplay or Imagine Dragons.
In truth, it’s no small feat that a band with such a diversity of influences, and with such an obvious wealth of talented players — the band members’ individual talents are much in evidence on all of ATL’s platters — has managed to meld its musical chops with its songwriting instincts, without giving short shrift to either.
Schmarkey says “Something She Poured” represents the pinnacle of that synthesis, a months-in-the-making project that saw the band members build their own studio and coalesce creatively in ways they’d never done before.
“One of our goals with this EP was to break it down to the level of pure songwriting,” Schmarkey says. “We’re all very much musicians, so we’re all always coming up with cool parts and interludes. This time, we wanted to make it more about the songwriting. And it came out well; this EP is a special one.
“We put ourselves in a small room and hashed everything out as a family. Everybody figured out what their part was, and the whole thing came out very organically. Within the confines of that room, we were able to literally pour out who we are, this huge, colorful combustion that is our band.”
All The Locals will play Preservation Pub Friday, Aug. 17 at 10 p.m.